Ex-Pastor Could Get 30 Years after Guilty Verdict in Sex Abuse Case
By Greg Smith
December 16, 2006
New London --A guilty verdict in the sexual molestation trial of Charles Johnson Jr. was met with tears and disbelief Friday by friends and supporters of the longtime pastor at the Norwich Assembly of God.
A six-member jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor, which means Johnson, 53, will serve at least two years in prison.
Held on $500,000 bond, Johnson will be sentenced Jan. 26 in New London Superior Court, where he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Some vowed continued support despite the verdict.
"It's such an injustice. It's wrong, terribly wrong," said family friend and church member Bonnie Nicholson through tears. "This man is not capable of such a thing."
Johnson of Norwich was convicted on charges he inappropriately touched a young girl whose family was involved in the church and had twice lived with the Johnsons in Norwich.
In her testimony, the victim, now 15, claims Johnson touched her on two different occasions when she was 9 or 10 while visiting with other families at Johnson's home.
In one instance, she claims he forced her to the floor, putting his hands in her pants. Johnson denied any sexual contact.
The girl's claims of molestation first surfaced last year when she told a teacher at her high school.
Assistant state's attorney Theresa Anne Ferryman, who prosecuted the case, said the foundation of the state's case was the victim's testimony.
"They had the opportunity to hear (the victim). They found her credible. That's what the case was about," Ferryman said.
Johnson, who is married with five children, never took the witness stand.
He resigned as church pastor after 22 years in 2002 under allegations his hugs and touching amounted to inappropriate conduct with several adult female church members. One of the women to bring allegations to the church's attention was the mother of the victim. That information was suppressed from the jury during the four-day trial.
Defense attorney Peter Bartinik Jr. said he was shocked at the verdict. He said an appeal is unlikely, though under consideration.
"I think a conviction on this evidence means no one is safe from an allegation of this kind. Anybody can make a claim like this," Bartinik Jr. said. "The thought that an innocent person is going to jail is what makes lawyers lose sleep at night."
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